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Friday, April 1 • 10:30 - 10:55
S03-05 Simulating Pre-Hispanic canoe navigation in Lake Cocibolca, Nicaragua

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Simulating Pre-Hispanic Canoe Navigation in Lake Cocibolca, Nicaragua

Adam Kevin Benfer

While the earliest computational method for modeling prehistoric human movement was developed during the late 1960s to simulate maritime voyages, other navigable bodies of water (e.g., lakes and rivers) have received very little attention in computational archaeology. Just as with the sea, the archaeological record supports the existence of travel on inland water bodies often without clear evidence of the specifics of this movement. Since the same environmental variables of surface current and wind patterns and cultural variables of navigator skill, vessel shape, and propulsion method are crucial to all aquatic travel simulations, the computational methods that were developed for simulating voyages in the open sea can be modified for lacustrine environments. As a case study, I focus on the largest lake in Central America, Nicaragua’s Lake Cocibolca, which covers an area of about 8,264 square kilometers, but remains surprisingly shallow, with an average depth of 12.5 meters. Because the lake is subject to persistent, strong northeasterly winds, some archaeologists have claimed that pre-Hispanic navigation was infrequent due to rough waters. However, archaeological studies in the Lake Cocibolca region have documented an abundance of ceramics and worked stone that the past inhabitants produced and traded widely during the later pre-Hispanic periods (AD 300-1550). This lake also features two large volcanic islands and hundreds of small islands, most of which contain archaeological sites with petroglyphs, monumental statuary, and mound architecture. Combined with the ethnohistoric record, it is clear that the pre-Hispanic inhabitants of the Lake Cocibolca region regularly navigated these waters using paddle-propelled dugout canoes. Computer-based voyage simulations in this windy lacustrine environment reveal the actual navigability of Lake Cocibolca during the later pre-Hispanic periods.

Friday April 1, 2016 10:30 - 10:55 CEST
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